Sculpture: Braille

All work done in an art classroom in a school involves speech and literacy. Following is a project that has the added benefit of foreign languages, associative word meanings and the “reading” of a sculpture with one’s fingertips.

The lesson is a basic one in the execution of bas relief sculpture. I call it “Braille” sculpture simply because I encourage students to “read” the finished sculpture using their fingertips, much as they would when reading Braille*.  As all sculpture is, a bas relief sculpture is indeed three dimensional, but in a rather “flattened” way. For example: a sculpture of a bear molded from clay has a top and a bottom, a back and a front, a literal circumference. A clay bas relief sculpture of a bear would be different in that the figure would be molded IN a flattened piece of clay, evident through touch or sight, yet embedded. Running fingers over the top of the bas relief sculpture of the bear, one would be able to feel the body of the bear: locate the head, the paw, etc. however, one would not be able to feel the side of the bear’s head, only a groove in the clay to demarcate it, one would not be able to feel the back of the bear’s paw, as the back is embedded in the original flattened piece of clay.

I discuss with student artists the meaning of the word”bas”; the French word for “low”. I ask students if they can come up with alternate ways to say “low” in English. Some student suggestions have been: down, near the floor, bottom, etc. I then ask if anyone has a word in another language for “low”: “bajo” in Spanish for example. The possible segues in this discussion are endless: what is the opposite of low, why do we call this type of sculpture low and not high, why do you think I also call this type of sculpture “Braille” sculpture?

Creating a bas relief sculpture is a simple exercise, may be a very exciting project for those with limited fine motor skills. Students are given a rather large chunk of clay which they are then asked to flatten on a 1’X6” piece of cardboard. Hands can be used to press the clay flat or a rolling pin can be used. Once clay is flattened to about ½” thickness, approximately 6” high by 12” long, the “canvas” is ready. Students are then asked to use fingers, or clay tools if tactilely defensive, to scoop clay away to create a figure of their choice. Once clay is dry, painting of bas relief sculpture can be executed.

*reading bas relief sculpture is an excellent pre-Braille skill.

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